Public Contracts – Innovations, But…

Cameroon has resolutely engaged in the modernisation trend with many services making the necessary efforts to get on board. The recent decision by the Minister Delegate at the Presidency in charge of Public Contracts to evolve towards an online procedure for the management of tender files must have made those involved in the sector to start reflecting on what to expect.

Of course, like every innovation, there are those who will find the measure salutary and the doubting Thomas’ who must wait to see before believing. The fact is that the hydra-headed problems that the Public Contract sector has presented over the years in Cameroon have often defied all attempts at innovations to the extent that pessimists are almost gaining the upper hand in all speculations.

Even before the existence of the Ministry in charge of Public Contracts, the situation was already disturbing with all forms of malpractices reported within the sector. The creation of the Ministry has perhaps given the opportunity for a more thorough scrutiny of hurdles in order to ensure the removal speed breaks, especially in terms of mismanagement of State funds and other ills that have bedevilled the business community in the country.

The real concern so far, has been the level of wanton human contacts involved in the contracting authorities, business persons and vote holders across the country. The commissioning ceremony of an official of the Ministry of Public Contracts last week led to some chilly revelations on the behaviour of those involved in the handling of tender files. Members of the public present were told that important documents from tender files belonging to business persons who failed to satisfy certain government officials often disappear. In some cases, the officials were accused of leaking vital information about bids to competitors, in order to ensure that contracts are awarded to those favoured by government official for ill-aised motives.

Added to these problems is interference from other administrative officials and other services meant to accompany the State in achieving meaningful results through the award of projects that can benefit the population. People have been known to deliberately block the award of contracts on time so that last-minute manoeuvres can enable them win the bids or give the projects to less qualified people from pseudo companies they might have created with nicknames or names of their close relatives. By sharing out major projects into small units so that contracts can be awarded on emergency bases following mutually-beneficial terms, public officials often deliberately compromise efficiency, quality, standards and even the country’s image for selfish reasons. The consequence has been the mismanagement of limited resources and the siphoning of State funds.

Given these litany of problems that have undermined positive results in the public contract sector in the country, the attempt to combat the ills as the ministry has undertaken since its existence in 2011, must take into consideration the importance of changing mentalities such that those involved should know that the way forward can be without corrupt practices. The computerisation of the system and the effective use of online procedures thanks to support from the Korean government, will obviously need to factor in the fact that the information online is posted by people who need to understand the risk involved in attempting to bend the rules.

Besides the deliberate introduction of errors by officials who want to distort the procedures for personal gains, there has been the issue of interpreting texts governing the public contract sector in the country. It has been common knowledge that the various services involved in the management of public projects in the country lack the vital synergy to ensure effectiveness on the field. Some officials have been heard throwing accusations left, right and centre, as if to say the setbacks witnessed in some key projects are caused by others and they are passive victims. Yet, such aerations could be tenable only if those concerned had different masters. If the well-being of the population has to be the ultimate goal in the execution of all public contracts, then it is questionable that differences exist to the extent of blocking projects. But since that has often been the case, there should be a true change of mentality envisaged so as to ensure that the innovation produces required results.

The list of challenges that the country faces today is so long that any attempt at delaying as far as the execution of projects is concerned can be damaging. The 2015 Female Afrobasket competition to be hosted by Cameroon is just a few months away and the infrastructure is still lacking. The 2016 Female Africa Nations Cup is around the corner and the Africa Nations Cup in 2019 is fast approaching as well. In spite of the fact that time waits for no one, there are no workers busy on any work site in the country to meet up with deadlines. It may not be wrong to image that the ills deplored above constitute some of the intervening factors holding back the projects from taking off. Consequently, while the various stakeholders tackle the problems at a macro level, there is the imperative factor of mentality change that has to be seriously considered now and not tomorrow.

Source : Cameroon Tribune

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